Summer Driving and Learning

Every summer, I do a ridiculous amount of driving. Ian’s far-flung camps and special programs are usually the cause of my pain. This summer, the driving chores were even worse, because I had Ian in ten or so small programs, and Jonah had a job, but no car.  I had high hopes of making headway on a long-term project this summer. Instead, I barely wrote a blog post or two.

My summer may have been a wash in terms of work, but for the boys, it was a huge growth experience.

Jonah took a job at a tavern in town as a bus boy.  On the face of it, the job was exploitive. He made $5 per hour with tips, but tips were often times minimal. He worked 60 hours a week, six days a week. He opened up the restaurant at 10, worked for two and half hours, then came home for three hours where I fed him dinner (which meant I had to make dinner in the middle of the afternoon) and washed his uniform (they only gave him two shirts).Then he went back at 5 and worked until 12, 1, or even 2. (Don’t even ask how we juggled cars, so we wouldn’t have to pick up Jonah at 2. It was insane.)

He lost weight, because he wasn’t allowed to eat on his job. He survived on customers’ leftover french fries and, occasionally, a half-finished steak.

Doing this job for more than the two months would have been a bad idea, but for those two months, it was great. He missed a whole lotta of parties where nothing good happened. He started identifying with the more mature 20-year olds that worked there, rather than high school kids. He learned how to set up a bank account and manage his own money. He kept track of his hours and got to work on time. He knows how to properly fold napkins and clean up poop off a bathroom floor.

Jonah developed a very healthy disgust for the functioning alcoholics who, after getting off the train at 5:00, immediately walked across the street to his tavern, where they drank until closing time.

He worked until the day before he left on a two-week trip in North Carolina, where he lived in the woods for two weeks without cellphones or showers. They didn’t even have tents. He did white water rafting, put in service hours at a wild life refuge, hiked at midnight, and camped alone for two days. We picked him up later in Asheville, very hairy and happy.

Ian isn’t the same kid as he was when we began the summer. We tried a bunch of new things, like horseback riding. He rides like a cowboy. His anxiety melts away when he sits on a horse. We’ll have to continue that in the fall.

We honed in on his strengths, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if he had gone into a program designed for special ed kids. It’s a little more stressful when he’s put into non-special ed programs, because sometimes the teachers aren’t patient or are weirded out by people who are different. This summer, it worked out. He did several computer and engineering classes. The teacher in his Maker Space camp said that he finished the programs 15 minutes before the other kids in the class. He even took computer classes for kids at the local community college. I dropped him off for three hours without an aide, and he did it. HUGE win.

Ian also started marching band at the high school. We knew that he could handle the music, but we didn’t know if he could handle other kids who played badly, the heat, the sun, the marching, long hours of waiting around, the weight of the drum, standing on his feet for that many hours, and the worry about making mistakes. Ian is actually an amazing musician. One music teacher think he’s a savant. Not sure about that, but he’s definitely the best drummer they have. And guess what? He’s managing all that other stuff, too. He’s got another six hours of band camp this afternoon. If he does it perfectly again, he’ll get a new game controller as a reward.

Jonah isn’t going to college until Labor Day. His college is one of the last to start up. So, we’re catching up on life, as we slowly make piles of school necessities — shampoo, pillows, bean bag chair. He got his wisdom teeth out. We’re throwing out papers from high school and packaging up track medals. He’s cleaning up his laptop. He and new roommate are exchanging diagrams for furniture placement in their room.

With all this change, my life is on hold. I’m the air traffic controller that makes sure that the planes are getting to the right destinations without forgetting a passenger. In two weeks, things will be boring, I’m sure. The house will be way too quiet, and I’ll be mourning the loss of my oldest. I can’t even think about that day when we leave him at school. I’m pretending that it isn’t going to happen.


Inside the Trump Voter

A new survey from Public Policy voting did some interesting work on Trump voters. Thought I would share some of the findings:

  • Asked what racial group they think faces the most discrimination in America, 45% of Trump voters say it’s white people followed by 17% for Native Americans with 16% picking African Americans, and 5% picking Latinos. Asked what religious group they think faces the most discrimination in America, 54% of Trump voters says it’s Christians followed by 22% for Muslims and 12% for Jews.
  • Overall 89% of Americans have a negative opinion of neo-Nazis to 3% with a positive one, and 87% have an unfavorable opinion of white supremacists to 4% with a positive one. Just 11% agree with the sentiment that it’s possible for white supremacists and neo-Nazis to be ‘very fine people,’ to 69% who say that’s not possible. (I would have liked to have seen this question limited to the Trump voters. Curious.)
  • They asked about confederate statues, but their question phrasing was weak.
  • Ryan and McConnell’s approval rates have dipped to record lows, because of Trump’s attacks on them. You might not like those guys, but we need them to keep the mad man in check.
  • 57% of Republicans want Trump to run again in 2020; 29% want someone else That’s a lot. Be afraid.

Things Fall Apart

In Federalist Papers — the closest thing we have to an owner’s manual for our democracy — Hamilton wrote in pamphlet #1 that the world’s first democracy is an experiment. The rest of the world is watching us to see “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

Though Hamilton and Madison had their differences about the strength of the national government, they both consistently maintained that for democracy to work, people must act as reasonably as possible, keeping a break on passionate risky behavior that leads to demagogues and roving bands of mobs. But knowing how people are prone to risky, emotional behavior, they set up a system, which Madison defends in #10 and #51, that would keep emotions at bay and foster deliberation and slow action.

Their system has worked for almost 250 years. The system of government has been emulated to one extent to another by the 123 other democracies in the world. And now it feels rocky.

We have a president that holds rallies for no discernible reason other than solidifying his base and bolstering his ego. He tells them that the wall is going up or he’ll shut down government. Just him. One guy. He’ll shut it down.

Congress, one of Madison’s two checks on executive power, is slowly dealing with the fact that we have a mad man in the White House. They absolutely know that he’s crazy, but are afraid of alienating the idiot’s 62 million supporters. At some point, they’ll have to grow a pair or we’re in serious trouble.

Trump is the demagogue that scared the crap out of Hamilton and Madison.

Then we have other forces at work. Other anti-democratic forces that in the name of purity and light are also undermining our democracy.

Antifa are just a bunch of anarchists. Anarchists are punks. Children who don’t care if the streets are paved, or the social security checks are cut. They enjoy chaos.

There are those who take down statues in the dead of night with ropes and flashlights. Those are the cowards. I don’t give a crap about confederate war statues. Don’t like them? Take them down. No quarrel from me. But I do care about how this happens. There has to be discussion and votes and people voicing opinions. That’s how it is done.

Sure, some people are fed up with the results of the last election and with the Republican control of Congress. I get it. But democracy is better than its alternatives. Always.

All the anger, the name calling, all the negative energy is intense. It’s mobs. Virtual tar and feathers.

My Facebook page has schizophrenia. First, people loved Tina Fey. The next day, they post links to articles saying that she’s a racist and, in fact, all white people are racist, but don’t make black people tell white people how they are racist, because that’s a burden on black people, so white people have to figure it out for themselves or pay money to attend a conference where the black people will tell the white people how they are racist and then make YouTube videos making fun of the white racist people at their seminars. Honestly, I might be done with Facebook.

Democracy is undone by the Internet.

These forces are also willing to undermine First Amendment rights that we have worked damn hard to maintain. All in the name of purity and light. I’m ready to give a big fat donation to the ACLU, because I’m not down with any repression of free speech beyond the basic limits that we already have in place. We could still maintain our democracy with fewer protections of speech — other democracies have fewer protections — but I like our system.

This great experiment, let’s not fuck it up.

UPDATE: I don’t want to forget the one Facebook friend who said that people had to renounce racism using exactly her words on their Facebook wall. If they didn’t do that, she would de-friend them. Or the other friend who held up a sign that said people who were silent were racists.

Inside the White Supremist Movement

I don’t usually listen to podcasts. When I’m working at my computer, I prefer tomb-like quiet. My commute is one flight of stairs. And when I run, I listen to an embarrassing mix of country, rap, and Beyoncé.

But this morning I couldn’t run, because all my running bras were in the wash. So, I walked two miles instead. For some reason, power walks require podcasts, not an embarrassing mix of country, rap, and Beyoncé. I pulled up The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily (Tuesday, August 22) on Spotify.

Michael Barbaro interviewed Derek Black, a former white nationalist whose father was the former grandmaster of the KKK. Black grew up with those people. His father also ran one of the big white supremacist websites. Black started up his own blog for white supremacist kids at age 12.

In the podcast, he describes the ideas that are at the root of the movement. For example, he says that they don’t just hate black people. Anti-Semitism is a big part of their ideology, as we saw on display at Charlotteville. The members wouldn’t describe themselves as a hate group. They just think that the world would be better, if different people lived in their own zones. They oppose globalism. Lots more in the podcast.

And then he went to college. And his views changed. His views didn’t change because professors were indoctrinating him or yelling at him. No, his views changed because he became good friends with an observant Jew, who even knowing about Black’s political views, invited him every week to Shabbat services at his house. There, around the table, he talked politics and social ideas with the other guests. They slowly, over the course of the year and during many conversations, convinced Black that he was wrong about his ideas. They brought information and studies to show him that countered the arguments that he had grown up believing.


Okay, rant over.

Black walked away from the white supremacists. His family barely speaks to him anymore. And the pain of the rejection was palpable on the podcast.

He talked about the content of Trump’s speeches and pointed out lines — lines that were meaningless to me — that echoed and supported white supremacist messages. White supremacists, he said, were a small fringe movement, but some of their ideas have been absorbed by Republicans.

Why is this Black guy not a regular on CNN? He knows more about the movement than any of the other pundits that their show. I learned more from this podcast than I did from hours and hours of CNN viewing this week.

What If

What if the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were actually a very, very small group of losers who couldn’t get a girl friends or proper jobs, as discussed by Kevin D. Williamson in the National Review? What if they grazed IQ’s of 90?

What if our country had almost no neo-Nazis other than those few creeps who descended on Charlottesville?

What if the commentators on CNN and FOX and social media are making this into something bigger than it is, because they are paid to create controversy. Without controversy, they don’t have a job. With controversy, they get speaking gigs, tv appearances, and book deals. What if that was true?

What if the actions of the Moron-in-Chief added fuel to the conflict, which might have gone away on its own?

What if this controversy caused people to react emotionally? And what if those emotions led to political actions that could have benefitted from deliberation among elected representatives?

What if this conflict and emotional decisions resulted in symbolic action, which took the place of larger policy reforms that could actually help people?

Just asking.

SL 693

Peter Beinart does a good job explaining antifa. He says that while antifa activists use troubling tactics, they aren’t anywhere as noxious as Neo-nazis.

I’m not cool with the harassment of parents of neo-Nazis who have been doxxed.

Should college students stay away from white supremacist rallies and not counter demonstrate? Does this give the Nazi’s more power? There a rally going on in town tonight. Since neo-Nazis aren’t a huge problem in this area, I’m not sure that we’ll attend. I have a big problem with protests that become Instagram moments.

Interesting article by the ACLU defending the free speech and assembly of horrible groups.


Doubling Down

Yesterday, Trump gave a defensive and defiant press conference, where he doubled down on his previous statements about Charlottesville. He said that not everybody at the rally was a Nazi. There were equally evil people there who attacked the protesters. The protesters had a permit. And he questioned whether or not we were going to start taking down George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues next.

A lot of pundits said that Trump made a major misstep. He should have simply said that Nazi’s were evil and moved on to talk about his infrastructure plans.

I’m not entirely sure that it was a misstep. I think Trump knows his base a lot better than we do. They want to honor Thomas Jefferson. They were unsettled by the Black Lives Matter movement and the attacks on police. They fear the restrictions on freedom of speech.

They are also dealing with major disruptions in their communities. That’s why Trump also talks a lot about the opioid crisis. I saw a whole lotta white junkies in Asheville last week. I saw horrific numbers of twenty years olds passed out on the sidewalk and smoking cigarettes outside methadone clinics. I haven’t seen scenes like that since New York City in the 1980s. The local news featured the mayor of Nashville who talked about losing her son to drugs.

Trump is purposefully bringing it all together. He doesn’t need John McCain or Mitch McConnell. He’s building his own party. And a scary one it is.